Russia, U.S. in Space Anniversary Double-Header This Week

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NASA’s probably breathing easier this week after last’s near-catastrophic government shutdown, and what better way to pop a celebratory cork (or two) than with a couple big anniversary events.

Tomorrow marks both the 50th anniversary of humanity’s first trip into space, as well as the 30th anniversary of NASA’s first ever Space Shuttle launch.

Who was first into space? Yuri Gagarin (that’s him up top), a Russian cosmonaut whose tiny torpedo-like Vostok spacecraft completed a full trip around the Earth on April 12, 1961. It took America and NASA another month to get Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard into sub-orbit (though Shepard’s original flight had been planned for as early as October 1960).

Tuesday’s other glass-raiser would be the April 12, 1981 launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia, NASA’s first in the Shuttle series–also, tragically, the second (after Challenger in January 1986) lost to catastrophe, along with its crew, when it broke part during reentry on February 1, 2003.

It sounds like the six astronauts currently aboard the International Space Station will partake of celebration pleasantries (though whether with actual libations or astronaut-friendly substitutes, who knows).

The final spot of Tuesday space-news has to do with NASA announcing which museums will have dibs on retired Space Shuttles for public display. According to ABC News, the ISS astronauts “say they’re impartial” to who gets what.